Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously chided a debate opponent, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” This would be a useful lesson for gun control advocates to learn. Every candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, for example, has echoed the familiar refrain that the number of mass shootings is on the rise and that more stringent federal laws regulating the sale of firearms will ameliorate the “crisis of gun violence.” The problem with these claims is that mass shootings are not increasing in frequency. Nor is there any objective evidence that new gun control laws would reduce their number.
This may be difficult to believe, considering the self-confident certitude with which gun control advocates make their assertions about the allegedly worsening state of affairs. Nonetheless, a little research will reveal that there isn’t even a settled definition of “mass shooting” among the people who produce the statistics anti-gun activists so glibly repeat. Anthony C. Lopez, Ph.D., of Washington State University wrote about this in Psychology Today shortly following the Dayton and El Paso tragedies. Lopez asks if the number of mass shootings is truly rising and explains why this deceptively simple question is very difficult to answer:
The answer to this question seems like it should be a straightforward matter of fact versus fiction: let’s just count the number of times these things happen every year, throw them on a graph, and see what we find. Right? Wrong.… Defining “mass shooting” seems like a simple matter, but it sits at the complicated intersection of many questions: Who did it? Where did they do it? Who they did it to? Why did they do it?
Lopez points out that the answers to these questions are also quite elusive and concludes that the incidence of mass killings hasn’t risen in frequency:
So what do we know? At the broadest level, defined in terms of at least any 4 people killed by anyone, by any weapon, for any reason, in any place, the frequency of mass killings seems to have remained relatively stable since at least 2006. This much seems relatively clear.… The risk is to cherry pick the data based on definitions of the problem that unproblematically lead to our pre-chosen favored policies.
That is exactly what “Beto” O’Rourke did during the recent Democratic debate, and his favored policy is a textbook example of how dangerous it is to demagogue gun violence. It’s difficult to imagine a faster way to increase shootings than for the government to “come after” the firearms of law-abiding citizens. Why do the studies discussed by Lopez conflict with the public perception that mass shootings are increasing in frequency? The answer is sensationalized reporting of selected incidents by the legacy media. WCAI, an NPR affiliate in Massachusetts, interviewed researcher Jason Silva from William Paterson University, who explained:
The average shooting only receives about four or five New York Times articles. Then there’s these few high-profile events that receive extensive enormous levels of coverage.… We find that a lot of coverage is dedicated to school shooters, and a lot is dedicated to ideologically motivated perpetrators. However, with my research, we’re finding that the reality is it’s actually more often occurring in the workplace.
Silva also told WCAI that the role of automatic or semi-automatic rifles in mass shootings is over-represented in the media, despite the well-documented reality that gun violence in general tends to be perpetrated with handguns in crime-ridden cities. In Chicago, for example, 282 people have been shot to death in 2019 alone. This has received a mere fraction of the media coverage that the El Paso shooting got, despite the ironic fact that it occurred in a city with stringent gun control laws. This brings us to the effectiveness of legislation restricting the Second Amendment rights of Americans, such as that advocated by “Beto” O’Rourke:
Do bans on large-capacity magazines (LCMs) for semiautomatic firearms have significant potential for reducing the number of deaths and injuries in mass shootings? The most common rationale for an effect of LCM use is that they allow mass killers to fire many rounds without reloading.… In all of the 23 incidents, the shooter possessed either multiple guns or multiple magazines.
This is from a study carried out at Florida State University, of nearly two dozen mass shootings in which semi-automatic “assault” rifles were used. The conclusion, if not obvious, was that the shooters could have continued firing without interruption by either switching loaded guns or changing to smaller loaded magazines. In other words, advocating a “buyback” of rifles equipped with LCMs might provide people like former congressman O’Rourke cheap applause lines, but it would have no effect on the death toll or frequency of mass shootings. Another example of useless gun laws involves restrictions on “concealed carry” permits:
Right-to-carry (RTC) laws mandate that concealed weapon permits be granted to qualified applicants.… We evaluate 25 RTC laws using state panel data for 1977 through 1999. We estimate numerous Poisson and negative binomial models and find virtually no support for the hypothesis that the laws increase or reduce the number of mass public shootings.
This is the conclusion of researchers at the College of William and Mary and the University of Alabama. Not that objective data matter to anti-gun activists. They believe they are entitled to their own facts. The Democrat-controlled House is even now perpetrating three new gun control bills. The first provides grants to states wishing to pass dangerous “red flag” laws, the second would impose a useless ban on rifles equipped with the LCMs discussed above, and the third would limit gun access to people convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes. The Democrats are determined to demagague gun violence until the voters boot them again.